Paul Williams

Paul Williams' The Open Tips 2019

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Royal Portrush plays host to the 148th Open Championship for the second time this week, with Max Faulkner’s 2-stroke win way back in 1951 the only other time that The Open has ventured to Northern Ireland. The cream of world golf are being joined on this beautiful stretch of coastline by those who’ve qualified through the many and varied routes over the past few months as players battle to win the Claret Jug and title of Champion Golfer of the Year in what’s sure to be an enthralling 4 days on the links in front of sell-out crowds.

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As has become the norm in Majors in recent times, the odds compilers are struggling to separate the elite players at the top of the market with Northern Ireland’s very own Rory McIlroy rating as the favourite at around the 8/1 mark generally. Serial Major performer and world No.1 Brooks Koepka follows shortly behind Rory in the betting, before we find the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods all around the 16/1 mark. With Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay and Henrik Stenson all rating 33/1 shots or shorter, this is another truly open Major Championship.

Course Overview.

Royal Portrush Golf Club – Dunluce Links, Portrush, Northern Ireland: Designer: Harry Colt, with Martin Ebert renovation 2017; Course Type: Coastal Links; Par: 71; Length: 7,337 yards; Fairways: Fescue, Bentgrass and Meadow Grass; Rough: Fescue, Bentgrass and Meadow Grass; Greens: Bentgrass (50%), Fescue (30%), Annual Meadow grass (20%).

The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush has been described as a course that rewards pure golf and rejects bad shots with harsh consequences. A Harry Colt masterpiece, the Dunluce will play as a challenging Par 71 at 7,337 yards this week. Since the 2012 Irish Open hosted here and won by Jamie Donaldson, the course has been re-configured and now features 2 new holes (the par-5 7th and par-4 8th), designed by Martin Ebert. The addition of these two new holes means that the old 17th and 18th holes, which were considered as weak closers, have been decommissioned.

Set within amazing dunes which frame holes perfectly, the course has undulations across its routing but also tellingly on the green complexes. It’s a course which is well known as being right in front of you, but to play well around here you need a game which is totally on point. Oh yes and a teenager by the name of Rory McIlroy held the course record on the old course with a 61, shot in 2006. I’m sure you’ll read and hear about that a few times this week.

Padraig Harrington knows a thing or two about the Open Championship. The 2007 and 2008 Open Champion, Harrington is synonymous with playing links golf to the very highest standard. Asked back in 2012 about the green complexes on the Dunluce course, he answered, “The greens are reasonably receptive, which is a godsend for us, because we are just not used to the ball moving around inside the green complexes and trying to cut the ball into a righttoleft green, and you have to trust that, yes, the wind will move it and things like that.  When you are playing in warm weather, the ball doesn’t do anything like it does here. I think having had the rain over the last couple of weeks, it’s going to help us out a little bit that the greens are not too firm.  It would certainly it’s not that the golf course wouldn’t play well if the greens were firm or the course was firm.

The greens are undoubtedly the star here on the Dunluce Links as they are undulating and devilish when firm. Royal Portrush though is also known for its weather. You can experience all 4 seasons in a single day on this stretch of the North Atlantic coastline and this part of the world is well-known for strong winds.

With only 64 bunkers on the course, Royal Portrush has the lowest number of sand traps on the Open rota, however its difficulty is generated by the wind, the creativity of Harry Colt’s masterful greens, and the course’s new found length.

Martin Ebert’s renovation has added almost 200 yards to the challenge and at over 7,300 yards, playing as a Par 71 with only 3 par-5s, when the wind blows this track will be a real challenge. The most famous hole has to be the 230 yard, par-3 16th named ‘Calamity Corner’ which is one of the most notorious links course holes on the planet.

Below are some revealing comments about the course when it last played at the 2012 Irish Open:

Padraig Harrington: “Yeah, I think the golf course is set up perfectly.  It’s different, the way we play as professional golfers, the style of golf is different to what I would have played when I played here 17 years ago. The greens are reasonably receptive, which is a godsend for us, because we are just not used to the ball moving around inside the green complexes and trying to cut the ball into a righttoleft green, and you have to trust that, yes, the wind will move it and things like that.  When you are playing in warm weather, the ball doesn’t do anything like it does here. I think having had the rain over the last couple of weeks, it’s going to help us out a little bit that the greens are not too firm.  It would certainly it’s not that the golf course wouldn’t play well if the greens were firm or the course was firm but it’s further away from what we play in professional golf, so we would be less accustomed to it.

At least now the way the course is set up, like I said, if you miss a shot, especially off the tee, actually around some of the greens, there’s some bushes, things like, that even outofbounds close to greens and stuff like that, so there are shots you’re going to find trouble, but you definitely can hit good shots out there and I think it would be a question of trying to make as many birdies as you can and accepting a couple of mistakes here and there.”

Graeme McDowell: “I think 63 off the back tees, not the new tees.  Not quite as good as Rory’s 61 in a qualifier for the North of Ireland.  But this is a golf course where you can go low.  You have a benign day like today, off the old tees, especially, it’s pretty short by modern standards. The course is playing fairly long this week and there’s not a lot of fire in the fairways given the amount of rain we’ve had.  The new tee boxes are fairly stout, 7,100, 7,200 yards, there’s some spicy enough rough out there in places if you get off the beaten track. It’s a good test.”

Darren Clarke: “17, off that new back tee, depends where the wind is coming from, obviously, as every hole goes on a links.  What is it, 600odd yards now?  If the wind blows into off the left, it’s a nightmare, because there’s a bunker a bit nearly there on the righthand side; and if the wind picks up it’s going to be a really, really tough hole.

Michael Hoey: “They have put a few tees just far enough back, and it’s soft conditions at the minute, and it’s playing long.  So I think just this course is now set up just perfectly and visually it’s great.

Just the runoffs around the greens, you just have to be pinpoint accurate and then the wind and the guys are talking about how good the grass is for divots, it’s just pure, great links, a bit like St. Andrews.  It’s really good. I think some of the par-3s are really difficult, the 6th, and the 14th, obviously Calamity.  Just finished there and the wind is in off the left and it’s a really solid 2iron or maybe 3wood.  It’s good, because if it wasn’t windy, some guys would hit like 5iron in there.  So it’s a proper test at the minute which is really good.

So I think par 3s, and then like 17 is tough.  That bunker is really in play off the tee.  The wind is in off the left, and I hit a good drive and the wind just leaked it and it plugged in bunker.  You could make a 10 if you’re in there.  You see quite a few players bailing out left.

So that’s quite a tough hole, and then the finishing hole 18 is tough, and the first, a lot of tough holes.

Shane Lowry (Round 3): ”Yeah, it was quite similar obviously, but it was really tough out there.  When you turn around, 14, 15, 16, 17; 17 we couldn’t get home in two, and 16 was playing driver, 2iron.  Everything was just so tough.  I just didn’t scramble the ball well and didn’t get upanddown when I should have.  You know, shooting 4over, that’s golf.

Padraig Harrington (Round 3): “Well, we got a big shot the first couple of holes.  The first hole, I hit a nice approach shot and came up 45 yards short of the flag.  That’s a long way out to carry on the wind. Second hole, same thing, hit a very nice approach shot in there and to come up 25 yards short, you’re kind of wondering what’s happening. So we didn’t get settled into the round very well early on.  I suppose we got going a bit more in the middle, on 7, I hit a tee shot that was virtually unplayable.  But there wasn’t much going for me early on, so 72 under the circumstances, I’ve got to be pleased.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Open Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Form/Event Stats | Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | Recent Majors Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2018: Francesco Molinari, 33/1; 2017: Jordan Spieth, 16/1; 2016: Henrik Stenson, 33/1; 2015: Zach Johnson, 110/1; 2014: Rory McIlroy, 18/1; 2013, Phil Mickelson, 20/1; 2012: Ernie Els, 45/1; 2011: Darren Clarke, 200/1; 2010: Louis Oosthuizen, 250/1. For a summary of winners’ odds since 2010 click here; for the same on the PGA Tour click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Sunshine and showers are the order of the day for Portrush this week with temperatures reaching the mid-60s Fahrenheit in the afternoons. Wind speeds averaging around 10-15mph coming predominantly from the south-west, whilst not insignificant, aren’t likely to offer the course a massive amount of protection.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Let’s take the final skill statistics from Jamie Donaldson who won the 2012 Irish Open held here, plus Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Anthony Wall and Fabrizio Zanotti who finished joint runner-up to the Welshman. Yes, we know that the Dunluce Links has been changed since this tournament, but it does give us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 1st, Jamie Donaldson (-18). 289 yards (8th), 58.9% fairways (35th), 62.5% greens in regulation (64th), 63.0 % scrambling (5th), 1.51 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2nd, Rafa Cabrera-Bello (-14). 273 yards (51st), 62.5% fairways (25th), 81.9% greens in regulation (5th), 46.2% scrambling (27th), 1.76 putts per GIR (23rd).
  • 2nd, Anthony Wall (-14). 277 yards (39th), 67.9% fairways (9th), 69.4% greens in regulation (43rd), 68.2% scrambling (2nd), 1.62 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2nd, Fabrizio Zanotti (-14). 281 yards (22nd), 66.1% fairways (15th), 79.2% greens in regulation (13th), 40.0 % scrambling (49th), 1.77 putts per GIR (33rd).

Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 30th, Driving Accuracy: 21st, Greens in Regulation: 31st, Scrambling: 21st, Putting Average 15th.

Naturally these statistics have to be taken with some context, but a couple of numbers jump off the page. It’s rare in professional golf that you see Driving Accuracy outranking Driving Distance, but it did at the 2012 Irish Open. Some of this can be put down to the wind where a north-westerly headwind made the home stretch a real handful, especially on Saturday. But you have to take from this that to have real success around Dunluce, you cannot be totally flagrant from off the tee. Some of the players used to PGA Tour course conditions won’t be fans of that.

In addition, we can also see that Greens in Regulation was of secondary consideration to both Scrambling and Putting Average. That is often the case on a links course when the weather is difficult. Course management and patience tends to take over from pure ball-striking ability, In 2012 we were dealing with a soft golf course in the main, but given tough windy conditions, it’s also revealing that 80% of Greens in Regulation was more than achievable for over 20 players in the field. So if conditions are not as soft as the R&A want and winds are tranquil, Dunluce would appear to be a reasonable test from tee-to-green. Ultimately though, Jamie Donaldson’s length from the tee, allied to a red hot scrambling and putting display won the title for the Welshman, however he was -13 across the 16 looks at the par-5s on the week.

It’s well worth noting that the course played as a Par 72 back in 2012. Since then it’s been considerably lengthened, with the par-5 2nd hole Giant’s Grave playing at 577 yards as opposed to 528 yards 7 years ago. The back nine for The Open will also feature only a single par-5, the 12th Dhu Varren hole, which plays as 530 yards. So as a Par 71 Dunluce will play to 7,337 yards as opposed to the 2012 Irish Open, where it was a 7,143 yard Par 72.

There are a number of identifiable trends from the past few Open Championship winners that are worth considering this week:

Recent Wins: In terms of recent winning form, 13 Open Champions from the last 19 renewals (68%) had won a tournament in the same season prior to triumphing at The Open. Tiger Woods (00, 05, 06), Ernie Els (02), Todd Hamilton (04), Padraig Harrington (07), Louis Oosthuizen (10), Darren Clarke (11), Phil Mickelson (13), Rory McIlroy (14), Henrik Stenson (16), Jordan Spieth (17) and Francesco Molinari (18) had all won in the same season prior to lifting the Claret Jug.

In terms of ‘non-winners’, David Duval had 3 Top-10 finishes and had finished 2nd at Augusta at the Masters prior to his triumph Royal Lytham in 2001. 2008 saw Padraig Harrington accumulate 4 Top-10s prior to winning by 3 shots at Royal Birkdale and the following year saw Stewart Cink arrive at Turnberry with 2 Top-10s including a 3rd at the World Match Play.

Zach Johnson may have arrived as a 110/1 shot in 2015, however with 7 top-10 finishes in the season to date and incoming form of 6/3 over his previous two events, he was clearly in decent nick. Only Ben Curtis at Royal St Georges in 2003 came from way off the page: in his rookie season on the PGA Tour he’d managed a 13th at the Western Open 2 weeks prior to The Open before beating Bjorn, Singh, Love III and Woods to take the coveted Claret Jug back home to Ohio.

Recent Form:

Francesco Molinari’s success at Carnoustie last year was his 3rd title in the space of 6 starts globally and adds even more gravitas to the fact that in-form players are the ones to follow at the Open Championship. It makes sense that those who are struggling with their games are unlikely to find them on a tough links course and in the last 6 champions we can see a pattern that’s easy to extrapolate:

  • 2018: Francesco Molinari, like Zach Johnson in 2015, arrived in Scotland directly off the John Deere Classic charter flight from Illinois and his confidence must have been sky high. A huge win (his 5th on the European Tour) in May at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth was followed by 2nd at his home Italian Open when defending. But the Italian’s summer got even better when he flew out to Washington in July to player Tiger’s tournament at TPC Potomac, which he won and in doing so captured his first tournament in the United States. He arrived in Scotland having just shot a field best -7/64 in the final round to finish T2 in the John Deere Classic.
  • 2017: Jordan Spieth flew into the northwest of England fully fresh and rested his 10th PGA Tour victory which he’d racked-up at TPC River Highlands when clinching the Travelers Championship in a spectacular play-off victory over Daniel Berger 4 weeks prior. In Strokes Gained parlance he was 7th for Approach, 2nd for Around The Green and 1st for Tee to Green, whilst he wasn’t bad with the putter finishing 3rd for Putts per GIR.
  • 2016: Henrik arrived in Ayrshire fresh from a free-wheeling 13th at the Scottish Open played at Caste Stuart. 76 in Round 1 was then followed by rounds of 69-66-70. However a fortnight prior to the Scottish Open, Stenson had won the BMW International Open at Gut Larchenhof with a -17/271 total. His performance in Germany and his 3-shot winning margin was made even more impressive by the fact that he topped Driving Accuracy, Total Driving, Greens in Regulation and All-Round categories. He was also 2nd for Scrambling. Henrik had also finished 4th at Bro Hoff Slot in June as well as 3rd at Bay Hill and 2nd in Houston earlier in the season on the PGA Tour.
  • 2015: Zach arrived at Edinburgh airport on the charter flight direct from Silvis, Illinois where he’d just finished a single shot behind Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic. 5th at Las Colinas and 6th at TPC River Highlands in preceding PGA Tour outings highlighted a player at the top of his game – even now the fact that he was available at 110/1 to win at St Andrews is jaw-dropping!
  • 2014: Rory had won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, a track which had always been his nemesis until his closing 66 destroyed the field. He then limbered up with a free-rolling 14th at Royal Aberdeen the week before triumphing in Cheshire, where a horrible 78 on Friday was surrounded by rounds of 64, 67 and 68. Rory was 18/1 second favourite prior to the tournament.
  • 2013: Phil Mickelson had already won at TPC Scottsdale and finished 2nd on the tough tests of Merion (US Open) and TPC Southwind before he touched down in Scotland. Arriving at Castle Stuart the week before The Open, Phil was a 20/1 shot to win the Scottish Open, which he duly did before travelling down the east coast to Muirfield where he shot an incredible 66 on Sunday to win by 3 shots from Henrik Stenson again at 20/1.
  • 2012: Ernie Els was available at 45/1 prior to Royal Lytham in 2012. With 4 Top-5 finishes (Fancourt, Copperhead, Bay Hill and New Orleans) plus a 7th at Wentworth and 9th at the US Open just prior to the Open, he had huge momentum and was in the right place at the right time when Adam Scott collapsed over the closing 4 holes. It’s fact that Ernie was the latest in a long line of form players to triumph at the Open Championship.

Last 10 event form of Open Championship winners since 2010 reads as follows:

  • 2018, Francesco Molinari: 17/20/49/16/MC/1/2/25/1/2 (Most recent result last)
  • 2017, Jordan Spieth: 12/30/MC/11/MC/MC/2/13/35/1
  • 2016, Henrik Stenson: 11/3/2/24/MC/MC/4/WD/1/13
  • 2015, Zach Zohnson: 20/9/MC/17/13/19/5/72/6/3
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy: 25/7/8/8/6/1/15/23/MC/14
  • 2013: Phil Mickelson: 3/MC/16/54/3/MC/2/2/MC/1
  • 2012: Ernie Els: 4/12/MC/2/MC/41/7/58/9/52
  • 2011: Darren Clarke: 12/48/MC/77/1/45/63/46/MC/66
  • 2010: Louis Oosthuizen: 3/44/2/1/MC/MC/21/20/MC/MC

Open Championship Record: Positive previous Open Championship performances have also been a factor when you look through the history of the most recent winners of golf’s oldest Major. 12 of the last 13 Open Champions had all previously secured at least a top-10 in this event in their careers – the exception to that rule being Louis Oosthuizen’s win at St Andrews in 2010:

  • 2018, Franceso Molinari: MC/13/MC/MC/39/9/15/40/36/MC (Most recent result last)
  • 2017, Jordan Spieth: 44/36/4/30
  • 2016, Henrik Stenson: MC/34/48/MC/3/13/3/68/2/39/40
  • 2015, Zach Zohnson: MC/MC/MC/20/51/47/76/16/9/6/47
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy: 42/47/3/25/60/MC
  • 2013: Phil Mickelson: 41/24/76/MC/11/30/66/59/3/60/22/MC/19/48/2/MC
  • 2012: Ernie Els: 2/10/28/24/2/3/1/18/2/34/3/4/7/8/MC/MC
  • 2011: Darren Clarke: 11/2/MC/30/7/3/37/59/11/15/MC/MC/52/44
  • 2010: Louis Oosthuizen: MC/MC/MC

It’s also interesting to note that only two players since 2000 have won The Open whilst ranking outside of the world’s top-55 when entering this week – Ben Curtis in 2003 and Darren Clarke in 2011 were the two to achieve this. In general, an in-form player with some relevant results from previous Open Championships and/or links/coastal events has triumphed in this event and I’d be surprised if the player who lifts the Claret Jug on Sunday deviates from this a great deal.

With only the 2012 Irish Open to go on in terms of course form and with the course lengthened and new holes added since, we’re going to need to approach this week’s task with an element of trust in the course specification and its raw links characteristics.

A relatively calm forecast forecast is likely to take the sting out of Portrush and birdies will be more readily available than some Open Championships; coupled with forecast showers on all 4 days, I suspect the winning total will be a little lower than the purists would like.

For me this puts the emphasis more on a strong, powerful tee-to-green game than touch around the greens. With its raised greens and false fronts, Portrush is less about playing golf along the floor than some other links venues and in many cases the ball needs to be flown all the way to the hole. All of that said, to lift the Claret Jug a player will also need to demonstrate masses of guile and determination coming down the stretch on Sunday under the most intense of pressure.

My selections are as follows:

Jon Rahm 3pts EW 16/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

An intriguing Open Championship market is headed by Northern Ireland’s most famous golfing son, Rory McIlroy, and it would surprise nobody if he were to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on a course that he’s already mastered as a teenager. Having won the Canadian Open immediately before the US Open and subsequently finishing in a tie for 9th, last week’s top-40 finish in Scotland wasn’t overly surprising nor overly impressive. The putter has been in fairly decent shape of late, however since Canada his long game hasn’t been quite up to his highest of standards and at the price on offer I’d want to see him firing on all cylinders. Of course he could come out and produce a tee-to-green masterclass and maintain his putting form, however that’s the gamble if you’re willing to take it.

With 4 Major titles in his last 9 starts and incoming Major form of 1/2/1/2, building a case to oppose Brooks Koepka is nigh on impossible. If there’s a chink in his armour – and it’s a fairly big if – it’s that an Open Championship form line of MC/67/10/6/39 is the least impressive of the 4 Majors, however at this stage tough decisions have to be made and I’ll reluctantly pass. Dustin Johnson hasn’t played well since the US PGA Championship, however 2nd there and 2nd before that at The Masters suggests that he’s found something when required at the biggest events, however his conversion rate at the Majors leaves a little to be desired. I suspect that Tiger Woods needs warmer conditions to play at his very best given his back issues, which ultimately leads me to Jon Rahm from the top of the market.

Fact is, players with a sparkling incoming form line have tended to prevail at the Open Championship in recent times. In his 4 starts before winning the 2013 Open, Phil Mickelson had finished runner-up twice and won the Scottish Open the week before; Rory McIlroy had won the BMW PGA Championship 5 starts before his Open breakthrough in 2014; Zach Johnson had finished 5th, 6th and 3rd in his 4 events leading up to the 2015 renewal; Henrik Stenson had finished 4th at the Nordea Masters and won the BMW International Open from his 4 events leading into 2016; Jordan Spieth finished 2nd at the Dean and Deluca Invitational 4 events before and won the Travelers Championship in his final event before the 2017 Open; and Francesco Molinari had won at Wentworth and at the Quick Loans National plus had finished runner-up twice in the 5 starts immediately prior to last year’s Open. Jon Rahm, with his form line of 3rd (US Open), 2nd (Andalucia Masters) and 1st (Irish Open) is the closest fit if this trend is to continue, with the possible exception of last week’s winner Bernd Wiesberger.

That win in Ireland a little over a week ago was the biggest clue that he’s likely to go well this week with conditions not looking overly tough; compared to the course setup at the Renaissance Club last week, Lahinch was a far more comparable and compatible warm-up to this week’s test. A second links-based Irish Open success for Rahm and a third Rolex Series success bodes well for a player who’ll be in massively confident mood as he seeks his first Major Championship.

Much has been made of the 24 year-old’s temperament when the going gets tough, which it undoubtedly does at a Major Championship, however for me he’s showing improvement in that respect and this week isn’t likely to be the kind of attritional golf that can bring out the frustrated side of Jon Rahm. 2nd at Valderrama on a tricky track was a turning point for the Spaniard in my view on a track that tests a player’s mettle as well as patience and that was duly rewarded in Ireland on a far more amenable track. The key for Rahm over those 2 starts has been that he’s been hitting masses of fairways and sufficient greens to produce field-leading Total Driving stats on both starts as well as 2nd in the field for Ball-Striking both times also.

A tentative, maybe even tenuous hole can be picked in every player in this field and for Rahm it’s his Open Championship record which reads 59/44/MC. For me I’m happy to look at his wider record in Europe and on the European Tour in general (4 wins and 4 more top-5 finishes from 14 career European Tour starts) included in which of course are those Irish Open wins as well as victory in his home Spanish Open which shared some linksy characteristics. Jon Rahm is one of the most likely future Major champions on the planet and this could well be his week. Result: T11

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Xander Schauffele 2pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

We were asked on last week’s Open Championship preview podcast to name our players under 30 years of ago who we thought would be next to win their maiden Major title. Pretty unanimously the answers were this week’s headline selection and Xander Schauffele.

With youngsters like Matt Wolff making waves on the PGA Tour with their fearless approach to golf at that level, it’s players like Brooks Koepka and Xander with their single-minded focus on achieving at the very top level of world golf that singles them out for Major Championships. As I’ve already articulated, I can’t back Koepka at the price on offer despite his obvious chance based on recent Major performances, however Schauffele offers a little more value given that he’s finished in the each-way paying positions in 4 of his last 6 Majors.

20th at Birkdale on debut in 2017 was driven chiefly by a final round 65 which elevated him 32 spots on the leaderboard to boost his cheque and OWGR haul from the event and 2nd last year saw him sitting in a 3-way tie for the lead heading into the final day before eventually finishing in the logjam 2 shots behind Francesco Molinari. Although not quite as impressive as his US Open form of 5/6/3, there’s no reason to suggest that when Xander makes his Major breakthrough that it won’t be on this side of the pond at The Open.

2 wins in the wraparound 2018/19 PGA Tour season gets him a tick in the recent win box and beating classy fields at the WGC HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions is what the 25 year-old is all about – for me you can virtually disregard his non-elite company efforts as being irrelevant as it’s clearly just the bigger events that get his juices flowing. 14th at the WGC Mexico Championship saw field-leading efforts in terms of Total Driving and Ball-Striking, 2nd at Augusta where he showed a massive amount of guile coming down the stretch to remain in that position, 16th at the US PGA Championship where he was in the mix until a final day 76 and 3rd at Pebble Beach on his last start all impress in their own way. 14th at Memorial before that US Open effort also saw field-leading efforts in terms of Total Driving and Ball-Striking to suggest that his game is in tip-top shape.

The only real negative I can offer about Xander is that he’s not played since Pebble Beach, however this contracted PGA Tour season has meant that many players have had to make adjustments to their schedules in order to stay fresh. With his focus on the big prizes I’m not remotely surprised that he’s made that decision and perhaps that decision will prove to be the correct one come Sunday. Result: T41

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Jason Day 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

From vertigo to flu to various back injuries, Jason Day can be a frustrating player to back. The former world No.1 has an overall conversion rate of just under 5% from all of his 283 professional starts with 14 victories, and a further 74 top-10 finishes demonstrates just how many times he’s put himself into a strong position on the leaderboard over the course of his career. One of those wins was at the 2015 US PGA Championship; 2 were in WGCs and you can add the 2016 Players Championship to his list of wins in top-level company. The truth is though that for a man of his undoubted talents, that’s still not the kind of return he should be showing and in an attempt to focus his mind and game on moving his career to the next level, he’s enlisted the help of golf’s most famous Caddy, Steve Williams.

Whilst undoubtedly still a work in progress, the early signs of the Day-Williams partnership are positive. 21st at the Pebble Beach-hosted US Open came days after the 31 year-old announced his new bagman with an admission that he’s underachieved in his career to date, despite those highlights I listed earlier. His scrambling was sharp that week, however since then it’s been his ironplay that’s really caught the eye with 87.5% (1st in the field) for GIR when finishing 8th at the Travelers Championship and 83.3% (6th in the field) on the same count when finishing a tailed-off 66th at the 3M Open. Those aren’t the sort of stats we associate with a player like Day whose strength tends to be on and around the greens and when he combines an atypical short game performance with those kind of GIR stats then he’ll win again, simple as that.

The Open Championship has been his weakest of the 4 Majors to date statistically, however that’s not to say he can’t play coastal golf as 2 wins at Torrey Pines would testify. Whistling Straits, the scene of that lone Major title, shares a few linksy traits and despite only finishing inside the top-10 once at The Open, he’s not missed a cut from 8 starts. That best effort was at St Andrews in 2015 when he shared the lead heading into the final day alongside Paul Dunne and Louis Oosthuizen, eventually finishing a shot outside the play-off. It’s always a gamble with Jason Day, however given the price on offer for a player who’s undoubtedly got the talent to win more Majors, I’m happy to take a chance this week. Result: MC

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Webb Simpson 1pt EW 90/1 (8EW, 1/5) with bet365

Of the longer prices, the one that really catches the eye is Webb Simpson. The North Carolina man’s Major credentials aren’t open for debate having won the 2012 US Open on just his 5th start in golf’s biggest events. Last 10 Majors for Webb boasts 10 paid weekends and a best finish of 5th in that stretch of time, achieved at this year’s Masters. Open Championship form is quietly impressive with 7 cuts made from 8 attempts and 3 finishes in that time of 16th or better.

Although he’s only secured one PGA Tour title since winning the Shriners in 2013, that success was over a world-class field at last year’s Players Championship. The ball-striking demands of TPC Sawgrass which suit his game were coupled with an excellent week with the flat stick to see him run out a comfortable 4-stroke winner over Major Champions Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Major Champion elect Xander Schauffele. 6th at the BMW Championship and 4th at the Tour Championship were further impressive finishes in decent company in last year’s Play-Offs, as was the aforementioned 5th at Augusta earlier this term, and despite not adding to his trophy cabinet since Sawgrass he’s cemented his position on and around the top-20 in the world rankings with these strong performances.

Adapting to the anchoring change in the putting rules was the 33 year-old’s biggest challenge, however it’s clear from his performances and stats that he’s now turning that element of his game into a strength. 18th for Total Putting on the PGA Tour for the season to date puts him in the 90th percentile on that measure and 22nd for Strokes Gained Putting rubber-stamps his flat stick credentials, further backed up on his last start when finishing 16th at the US Open when he led the field for total putts and was 3rd for Putts Per GIR. 2nd in his start before that at the Canadian Open saw rankings of 9th for Driving Accuracy, 11th for GIR and 1st for Scrambling – as ever, if he can put all of those elements together here then he would likely be in serious contention on Sunday. Result: T30

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Lucas Glover 0.5pt EW 200/1 (10EW, 1/5) with William Hill

A sublime ball-striker, in form and a Major Championship to boot available at 200/1 with 10 places each-way on offer – surely some mistake? Maybe, maybe not – the name Lucas Glover is perhaps the reason that we’re getting the price as he’s certainly not one of golf’s fashionable youngsters or eye-catching flair players; instead the 39 year-old is better known for his putting-based marital issues caused by his tendency to miss a few too many putts when push comes to shove.

It’s been a lean few years for the 2009 US Open Champion with only his Wells Fargo Championship win in 2011 between then and the present day. After a poor 2018 PGA Tour campaign it took a trip to the finals to re-invigorate a career that had seen him reach 15th in the OWGR at its peak; 2nd place at the Tour Championship and a continuation of form into the 2018/19 wraparound season saw him fulfil the requirements of his medical extension and he’s continued his good form into 2019 with 7th at Pebble Beach, 4th at the Honda Classic, 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational,7th at the 3M Open and 10th last week at the John Deere Classic which sees him within touching distance of the world’s top-50 once again. 16th at the US PGA Championship at the scene of his career-defining victory a decade ago marked his best Major finish for 8 years and the confidence is clearly starting to flow once again.

The catalyst for this improvement in form has undoubtedly been a step-change in his putting performance and although that’s not always readily observable when he misses a televised tiddler, the stats are compelling. 132nd (2016), 113th (2017) and 154th (2018) for strokes gained putting has improved to 46th as of this week and 20th for Total Putting suggests that the hard work he’s been putting into his weakest suit is starting to pay off. Couple that with an excellent ball-striking week, as we know he’s well capable of, and a contending performance can be expected wherever it is that he’s teeing it up.

Open Championship form of MC/27/78/MC/48/12/MC/MC might not scream impending success, however it’s worth noting that the best finish there, 12th at Sandwich in 2011, saw him share the lead with eventual winner Darren Clarke at halfway and was achieved with far worse immediate form than we’re seeing right now, so he can clearly adapt his game to this type of terrain. A sneaky each-way shout at a long price in my view. Result: T20

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Jazz Janewattananond 0.5pt EW 300/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

If recording a string of contending performances in the recent past is a strong indicator of impending success at The Open, then few can boast a better 2019 than Jazz Janewattananond. Now suggesting that the talented Thai will be lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday may be a bit of a stretch, however with the generous each-way terms on offer this week the reward for him sneaking into the paying places is enormous and enough for me to take a chance here.

2 wins and 8 further top-5 finishes in 2019 needs to be taken into context as they’ve been achieved predominantly on the Asian Tour, Australasian Tour, All Thailand Tour, Japan Tour and Korean Tour, however that in itself shows a significant level of versatility. Add to that a career-best European Tour finish of 3rd at the Maybank Championship and the fact that his Singapore Open win in January saw him beat a field including Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick and Sergio Garcia and I don’t think we should belittle his efforts so far this term.

What really impressed me though was his 14th place finish at the US PGA Championship on what was just his second Major Championship start. Rounds of 70, 68 and 67 put the 23 year-old in the penultimate Sunday group alongside Luke List. All 4 men struggled from the final 2 groups with eventual winner Koepka and List both shooting 74 to Jazz’s 77 and Varner’s 81, however the experience will undoubtedly be something that will set him in good stead as his career develops. 3 of his last 4 starts have produced a top-7 Ball-Striking performance and despite finishing 26th on his last start at the Japan PGA Championship, he did shoot the best round of the week on the Saturday with a sumptuous 63. Winning this might be a stretch as I say, however I’ll take an each-way payout every day of the week at the price on offer. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 11:25BST 15.7.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.